'My Father Was the BTK Killer' read the book bonus section of Reader's Digest this January. "Could you ever forgive a serial killer? What if he was your father?" Made curious about the two line synopsis, I went on to read an honest account about a daughter struggling to forgive her father who is a serial killer in Wichita, Kansas, USA.
Most of us might not have a tumultuous relationship like that, some of us might have atrocities done to us that we struggle to forgive, or some of us might be in a position where we have to apologise and ask for forgiveness. Whichever side we might be on, the fact is that we are all fallen humans dealing with brokenness in relationships in some form or other. Some are easy to handle and some are hard. Some people are easy to forgive and some we loathe with such disgust. In this post, I'd like to share the struggles I faced being on both sides of the line. Forgiving someone whom I really despised, and now asking for forgiveness.
When I first started writing for IndiAanya I wrote a post called Struggling with Forgiveness. I had just started my final year of college and I struggled to forgive a particular girl in my class. I was a "good" believer, a good student, daughter and friend but my heart was disgustingly wicked and hard. I could not forgive, I would not forgive. I was bitter, and felt I had every right to be that way. After all, I was the one who was hurt in the relationship. And so for a whole semester I behaved that way. I had mentors confront me about my hard heart, I had a good friend in class who tried to mediate so I could make peace with the offender, but I just would not budge.
At the end of the year, as I was sitting in the watch night service on 31st December in our church, I found myself struggling to pray the Lord's Prayer. I felt like a hypocrite saying, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." And at that point God broke my hard heart. I remember weeping and blubbering through the rest of the prayer. I remember honestly asking God to help me forgive and help me let go of the past. And He did, ever so simply - just like that! So much so that when I went back to college at the start of my last semester, I walked up to her, shook hands, smiled genuinely and wished her a happy new year. I knew right then that forgiveness was given and received.
Fast forward to present day. I am a wife and mother, and for some reason I thought I would never have to deal with difficult relationships ever again. Haha! Which world am I in, right? Recently we had a bible study on forgiveness, and the group leader asked us if we had any issues that we struggled with about forgiveness. Everyone in the group was sharing their struggles while I sat their smugly thinking,"Ha, I'm past all this." When it was my turn to share, my self-righteousness kicked in, and I said I had nothing to share. I genuinely thought my heart was right with God.
On our way back, while we were still discussing the topic, my husband gently reminded me that there was one relationship that I had to work on. A few months back someone else had asked me to work on that relationship too. I had promptly swept it under the carpet, just pretending to be working on it. Oh, I always had excuses handy when it came to a difficult relationship. But there is no pretending with the husband. Not that he was after me with a stick to work on it. Far from it. Being the true gentleman that he is, he never brought it up again.
But I knew God was working on my hard heart again, this time though I had to seek someone's forgiveness. I asked a friend to mediate. And even then I struggled. I had not spoken to this person in years now and I felt very awkward owning up to my mistakes. But my friend did mediate. She continues to do so. She does it in love. She genuinely seeks my welfare and the other person's welfare. She longs for us to be reconciled and our relationship to be restored. She is a strong reminder of what Jesus does for me, mediating on my behalf, reconciling me to the Father God. So after long talks and longer periods of procrastination, I did write to my friend whom I had hurt very badly. I still continue to write and I still continue to wait. I still struggle with all those ugly feelings that the human heart is capable of. Being a pastor's wife does not exempt me from such feelings.
Maybe you are honestly struggling in one way or the other. Most often when we are hurt we respond in arrogance or by avoidance. Both of which the Bible does not recommend. The Bible does recommend that we hold no record of wrong but to freely forgive. In case we are the offender, the bible encourages us to approach the other person in humility and with a truly repentant heart as we ask for forgiveness.
Thabiti Anyabwile in his article 'How To Make a Confession and Extend Forgiveness' gives us a seven point reminder while we make a confession. They are as follows:
1. Address everyone involved.
2. Avoid "if", "but" and "maybe" . These words shift blame or nullify the apology.
3. Admit specifically.
4. Acknowledge the hurt.
5. Accept the consequences.
6. Alter your behaviour.
7. Ask for forgiveness.
Not that we have to go through all seven points in order, but when I was struggling to make a confession these points were helpful reminders. He also talks about the four promises of forgiveness:
1. I will not dwell on this incident.
2. I will not bring this incident up and use it against you.
3. I will not talk to others about this incident.
4. I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
Kerri Rawson, the daughter of the BTK killer, states in the article that after a ten-year struggle, she went on to forgive her father with the help of the Lord Jesus. Restoring relationships through forgiveness is a journey. The journey may be unpleasant and may require courage, humility and a test of enduring faith and hope. No matter what your circumstance may be, I invite you as a fellow traveller on this journey.
In closing I'd like to share a verse that has helped me a lot as I struggled with forgiveness: 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, " . . . love keeps no record of wrongs." May the love of Christ, a love which kept no record of our wrongs help you on your journey of forgiveness.
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